I love finding debut authors who are able to combine an original story and strong voice. Last year’s What’s Left of Me by Kat Zhang, the story of two souls inhabiting a single body, touched me with its thoughtful mood and lovely writing, and I’m so excited about seeing Addie and Eva’s story continue in its sequel.
You probably already know that the author recently graduated from college, and it’s mind-boggling to think that she juggled writing, querying, revisions, and schoolwork all at once. As part of the official Once We Were blog tour, Kat is joining us today with a guest post on her journey to publication, as well as her advice to aspiring writers.
I want to know how she did it…don’t you?
My Journey to Publication
by Kat Zhang
I remember being seventeen, after finishing up my first book (not What’s Left of Me!), and not having any real idea about the industry. I can’t even remember how I got started learning—probably the internet! I do recall reading a ton of writing books, and getting the print version of the guide to literary agents or whatever it was called, and writing down names that represented YA.
Weirdly enough, back when I was querying my first novel, I only wanted to send them out by snail mail. I think there was something concrete and business-like about the business of typing, printing, and addressing a letter that appealed to me. After all, I’d been chasing this publication dream since I was twelve, but it had always been an nebulous thing. Putting stamps on envelopes…sending them off to NYC…it felt legitimate. I think I probably queried about ten or twelve agents, which felt like a lot at the time!
Unfortunately, none of those SASEs included came back with a positive answer ;) Fortunately, I had read enough advice online (I think my main resources back then were QueryShark and Miss Snark) to know I should bunker down and write another book while waiting for query replies. I started a book named Hybrid during this time to keep my mind off the query jitters. This, of course, later became What’s Left of Me.
By the time I finished the first draft, I was a freshman in college—and, more importantly, I stumbled across a blog called Let the Words Flow (now Pub(lishing) Crawl). Some of the ladies already had agents, one even had a book deal, and there I was freaking out about margin sizes and what to put in my query bio (I never did figure it out, and left it blank!).
Publishing can seem utterly overwhelming. There’s a wealth of information, to be sure, but some is outdated, and much is a matter of opinion. It was easy for me to get lost in the minutia (1-inch margins!) rather than try to figure out the whole beast of a thing. Having mentors helped beyond measure. They not only aided me in concrete things (how to write a query, how to format a ms), they made me believe that publication was possible. It wasn’t something that happened to “other people”—amorphous, slightly magical people who I’d never meet.
Last summer, three of the other ladies from Pub Crawl and I went on a two-and-a-half week tour with the goal of giving back a little to the bookish community. We’d all started out as young writers, and had been helped in our own publishing journeys by a number of mentors. We couldn’t hope to be a perfect book guru to every young writer we met, but we hoped to inspire and guide as much as we could.
It was a really fantastic time, and definitely something I’d like to do again. Over the course of the tour, I got a lot of questions and prompts for “advice for aspiring writers.” I thought I’d share some of the highlights :)
Advice for Aspiring Writers
1. Finish the book. If you’ve already accomplished this, hooray! But if you haven’t, don’t underestimate the difference this makes. It’s one thing to write a lot of nice scenes. Another thing entirely to craft a coherent story with a beginning, middle, and end.
2. Read in your genre. I do know of some authors who didn’t do this—one of my favorite writers, Lauren DeStefano, didn’t read YA before Wither…and I have to confess that while I was writing What’s Left of Me, I was too mired in high school reading to read for fun (sacrilege, I know), so I was really out of the YA-loop as well. But I’d lived YA books for all of middle school, so I suppose there was that :P
But seriously, in hindsight, I would tell myself to read more in the genre. Not only does it let you know if the “shiny, original” idea you have isn’t actually that shiny, it lets you know how other people have written stories similar to your own. I don’t believe that reading in a genre, knowing the “usual structure” (or, to be more blunt, “cliches/rules”) of a genre means you’re going to fall into the same. Know the rules so you can break them, right?
3. Set goals—but you-driven goals. That means, you don’t tell yourself “My goal is to get published in the next year.” Because honestly, that’s not something you can control. You might work really hard, and write a great book, but it doesn’t get in front of the right people, or does so at the wrong time. Rather, set goals that are under your own control: “I will finish my book this year” or “I will start querying in April.”
4. Know the industry…but try not to kill yourself stressing about it. I worked as an intern for a literary agent for about a year, and read a lot of both queries and manuscripts during that time. People give a lot of “rules” about queries, but honestly, as long as you’re sending a few paragraphs that make the reader want to read your story, you’ve accomplished the point of a query. There are guidelines, of course, to be more professional about it, and I recommend reading a lot of samples and then showing your query to people (both who have and haven’t read your story). But try not to freak out too much. (I know, easier said than done!)
I could go on, but I promised just the highlights!
It’s hard to believe I have a second book out. One of the most surreal moments of receiving Once We Were in the mail was seeing the “Also by Kat Zhang” page. How strange and wonderful to have not only a book out, but another one “also by” you :P
Thanks for letting me on the blog and helping me celebrate Once We Were’s release!
Once We Were (Hybrid Chronicles #2) will be out in stores and available online on September 17, 2013. Get the latest news and updates on Kat Zhang’s projects through her website and Twitter.
Win Both Hybrid Chronicles books!
Thanks to Kat Zhang and Harper Teen, we have an autographed paperback of What’s Left of Me and an ARC of Once We Were to offer to our readers. All you have to do is leave a comment below and fill out the Rafflecopter form! Additional entries may be earned daily by tweeting, pinning, etc.
Open to U.S. and Canadian residents aged 18 and up, or 13 and up with parental permission. See the entry form for complete rules. Good luck!
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Follow the Once We Were Tour!
9/12 The Midnight Garden
9/13 The Book Smugglers
9/16 Finding Bliss in Books
9/17 Stories & Sweeties
9/18 Lady Reader’s Bookstuff
9/19 I Swim for Oceans
9/20 Birth of a New Witch